Cebu: Strife Around A Future Public Transport System

Metro Cebu is the Philippines second largest conurbation with total population reaching now 1.5 million. And  like in Manila, the city is increasingly plagued by incessant traffic congestion along its narrow roads. Asia’s usual woes -corruption which slowdowns any improvement in infrastructure and undisciplined drivers explain the situation.

Back to 2012, the World Bank announced to look at funding a feasibility study over a future integrated public transport for the metropolitan area followed in 2014 by the approval of a financing package for a future Cebu Bus Rapid Transit project (TransCebu BRT). A dedicated lane for a bus transit system -modeled after existing BRT systems in service in Asia such as in Jakarta, Yogyakarta or Ahmedabad- is perceived as a more efficient, reliable, fast, safe and climate-friendly transport system. Financially, the investment is reasonable and comes cheaper than similar tramway or underground system. Buses request a simpler system while infrastructure comes cheaper than trains.

Back to 2014, the World Bank put at US$228.5 million the total cost for the first phase of the BRT. The Word Bank US$141 million financial package, consisting of loans from the World Bank (US$116 million) and the Clean Technology Fund or CTF (US$25 million). The Philippine government will provide counterpart financing amounting to US$87.5 million.

The money will finance the construction of the first 23-kilometer BRT system along a major transport corridor spanning from Bulacao to Talamban in Metro Cebu. It will include transit ways, 33 stations, terminals, a depot and a state-of-the-art computerized traffic management system to ensure smoother overall traffic flows and a good integration of the BRT into existing modes of transport. Total riding per day is expected to reach 330,000 passengers.

Launched by the previous Philippines government, the project is now facing resilience from the Duterte administration in a typical political game. The newspaper the Philippine Star reported two days ago that the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino announced to lobby the President for the cancellation of the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) project in Cebu. The Assistant highlighted his decision following a critical presentation by a transport expert, Rene Santiago.

In his presentation, Santiago said the BRT cannot solve the rising demand for “ridership” in Cebu, as it will only “replace” existing jeepneys.  Buses plying narrow streets are likely to even cause more traffic jam. The expert pointed out that the city’s BRT project is already four years behind its scheduled implementation.

“If the BRT project is just a waste of effort, time and money and it will be a total disaster for Cebu, we have to stop it,” Dino said to media.  I will lobby before the president and all other government agencies to cancel the BRT project. This project will only prove disastrous for Cebu. Why let Cebuanos be part of that suffering? What we need is a light rail transit system similar to the one existing in Manila,” Dino indicated.

In an earlier interview, Cebu Mayor Tomas Osmeña, the project’s proponent, said he has anticipated Dino’s opposition and he would fight against any blocking of the project, which construction already started. The city administration is already working on a feasibility study for the second phase of the BRT. A proposal will be submitted to the Department of Transportation. The second line would link Metro Cebu city centre to Mactan Cebu International Airport via the South Coastal Road to improve the mobility of commuters.
The strife around the BRT is likely to delay again the BRT which was planned to become operational by 2019. And once again, Cebuanos and visitors will continue to suffer from traffic jam…